ATUS Extract Builder Description

The American Time Use Survey Data Extract Builder (ATUS-X) is a project dedicated to making it easy for researchers to use data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). The ATUS is an ongoing time diary study, started in 2003, that is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and fielded by the U.S. Census Bureau. It provides detailed information about the activities in which respondents engage together with extensive information about the characteristics of those respondents and other members of their households. The ATUS is described at greater length elsewhere.

The goals of the ATUS-X project are:

  • To collect and preserve ATUS data and documentation
  • To harmonize the data from different years of data collection
  • To make it easy to create data files containing the ATUS variables a user needs.

Core funding for the ATUS-X is provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. The Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided additional support.

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Advantages of Using the ATUS-X

Time diary data allow researchers to look at and analyze the time people spend doing different things. The ATUS collects information on time spent in each of more than 400 detailed activities. Each ATUS respondent reports on all of his or her activities during a designated diary day. Information on personal and household characteristics also is collected during the ATUS interview. The sample for the ATUS is drawn from households that have completed their participation in the Current Population Survey (CPS) and additional information about ATUS households is available from their CPS interviews. The BLS provides a set of data files that contain information collected during the ATUS interviews along with information collected during sample households' final CPS interviews. These data files are complex. Considerable programming effort may be required to create even relatively simple time use variables and to produce data files suitable for analysis.

The ATUS-X data extract builder is designed to make it easy for users to create data files that contain the time use, personal characteristic and household characteristic variables they want, thus making the data more accessible to a broader audience. The system aggregates time spent in user-specified combinations of activities, applies any requested filters behind the scenes and delivers this information to users in the form of time use variables. Time use variables contain the number of minutes ATUS respondents spent in the user-specified activities and filters during the interview day. Individual and household characteristic variables that a user desires also may be selected. The output from the ATUS-X is a data file consisting of person-level records that contain the variables a user has requested. A statistical software package such as SAS, Stata or SPSS must be used to prepare tabulations or carry out other analyses using the data file.

Registering as a System User

If you are a new ATUS-X user you may browse the extract system, though you must register prior to creating an extract. Any selections you make in the data extract builder will not be retained if you are logged in as a guest. Registering is the first step in creating a data extract. To register, click on Create an ATUS-X Account. You will be asked to provide a bit of personal information, research interests, and to select a password. Registration is easy and you will be asked to register only once. The email address that you enter when you register will be used to login into the system and to let you know when an extract that you have requested is ready to be downloaded.

There is no charge to use the ATUS Data Extract Builder, but we do ask that users of the system notify us by email of any publications, research reports, presentations, or educational material making use of ATUS-X data or documentation. Users should also appropriately cite data obtained from the ATUS-X. Continued funding for the ATUS-X depends on our ability to show our sponsor agencies that the data are being used for productive purposes.

Once you have registered, return to the home page and click on Build an Extract. From there, you will have the opportunity to specify the sample for your extract; define and select time use variables; select personal and household characteristic variables; and request your extract.

Defining Sample Criteria

ATUS data are released annually; at the present time, data are available from 2003 to the present. Approximately 20,000 ATUS interviews were completed in 2003; approximately 14,000 interviews were completed in each year thereafter. Interviews were conducted throughout each of the years. Users may specify that their sample should include data from a single year or from any combination of years.

Potential respondents to the ATUS were drawn from the outgoing rotation group of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The original ATUS public use files contain information on all sampled individuals and their households whether or not the sampled individual participated in the ATUS. To serve the broadest possible audience, we have preserved much of the original detail in the public use files, including the information provided for other members of ATUS respondents' households and for members of CPS households whose designated respondent did not participate in the ATUS.

Users are given a choice of four possible groups of people to be included in their data extract:

  • ATUS respondents
  • ATUS respondents and members of their households
  • ATUS respondents and ATUS nonrespondents
  • ATUS respondents, ATUS nonrespondents, and members of their households

ATUS respondents: This is the default sample member selection in the data extract builder. Time use information is available only for ATUS respondents.

ATUS respondents and members of their households: This sample member selection will create an extract with information about ATUS respondents and other household members. These data may be useful for constructing household characteristic variables, for example. Before making this selection, however, we advise users to look at the list of available demographic variables as a suitable variable may be available there. The "Constructed Household Composition" or "Spouse Characteristic" variable categories may be particularly helpful.

ATUS respondents and ATUS nonrespondents: This sample member selection in intended for users who want to study bias and nonresponse. You may want to make this selection if you plan to construct weight adjustment factors that use information on sample members' personal characteristics.

ATUS respondents, ATUS nonrespondents, and members of their households: This sample member selection is a good choice for users who plan to construct weight adjustment factors that use information on sample members' household characteristics.

The Census Bureau has constructed weights intended for use in producing estimates from the ATUS data. These estimation weights take into account the differing probabilities of selection for sample members with different characteristics, the over-representation of Saturdays and Sundays in the designation of respondents' diary days, and the differing response rates for sample members with different characteristics. Users who want to adjust the Census Bureau weights or produce alternative weights based on more detailed information about the characteristics of survey respondents and nonrespondents will want to choose one of the last two sample member selections. Users who select samples that include ATUS nonrespondents will likely want to select the ATUS base weights (BWT) rather than the ATUS final weights (WT06). We expect few users to be interested in samples that include ATUS nonrespondents.

Choosing a Data Format

Users are also able to request rectangular or hierarchical data files. The default selection is rectangular (person), in which all selected household information and time use variables are attached to ATUS respondent records. The system default should accommodate the needs of most users.

We also deliver data rectangularized at the activity level, with household and person variables attached to activity records. Who and eldercare records are not available with this data format selection.

Finally, hierarchical is our most general and flexible data format. This format provides data at each level on it's own record (household, person, activity, who, and eldercare). With this selection, users may choose to either include or exclude eldercare recipient records from their extract.

Creating and Selecting Time Use Variables

The next step in the data extract process is to create and/or select any time use variables the user desires. Each designated reporting day includes a 24-hour period that begins at 4 a.m. and ends at 4 a.m. the following day. A time use variable returns the number of minutes for each ATUS respondent meeting user-specified criteria. Time use variables are comprised of combinations of activities and/or filters. Time use variables are described in greater detail elsewhere.

Three basic options are available for time use variables: selecting a time use variable that already exists; modifying an existing time use variable; or creating a new time use variable from scratch.

Selecting an Existing Variable. The first time that a data user enters the Data Extract Builder, the existing time use variables available for selection will include time use variables defined within the ATUS activity coding structure and time use variables used by the BLS in its survey publications. The ATUS activity coding structure time use variables represent the major categories of the 3-tier, 6-digit activity coding scheme.

The BLS uses a slightly different classification structure for its publications that include ATUS data. One major difference between the publication classification structure and the activity coding classification structure is that, for publication purposes, the BLS includes time spent traveling in connection with another activity together with the time spent actually engaged in the activity. For example, the publication category "Eating and drinking" includes time spent in travel related to eating and drinking, such as driving to a restaurant. Another difference is that several of the publication categories combine categories from the activity coding structure. For example, the publication category "Leisure and sports" combines the activity coding structure categories of "Socializing, relaxing and leisure" and "Sports, exercise and recreation." Further details can be found in this bridge.

Returning users may also select any time use variables created on a previous visit to the Data Extract Builder for inclusion in a new extract. These previously-created variables are also available for selection on the top of the same page as the pre-defined activity coding structure and BLS time use variables. Users may also view their previously created time use variables outside of the extract system in "My ATUS".

Modifying an Existing Time Use Variable. Another option for data users is to modify an existing time use variable. Variables may be modified by adding or deleting activities from a pre-loaded variable or by applying filters to the variable specification.

Currently available filters restrict the activities selected to those occurring in certain locations or at certain times of day; to activities that involve or do not involve having a child under the age of 13 in the respondent's care (secondary child care); to activities that involve or do not involve having an elder person in the respondent's care (secondary eldercare); to activities that involve or do not involve engagement in eating and drinking secondary activities (secondary eating and drinking); and, to activities occurring with other household members or with particular groups of non-household members. For example, if you were interested in studying shift work, you might create two time use variables by combining Work and Work Related activities with a time filter for two paid work shifts: first shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and second shift (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.). You could then compare the personal and job characteristics of individuals who work during the first shift with those who work during the second shift.

Once any desired modifications have been applied to the existing variable, the user is asked to name and label the new variable and provide a short description that is retained for later reference. The system automatically stores the activity code and filter selections used to create the modified time use variable. These specifications may be referenced at a later date if there are questions about exactly how the modified variable was defined.

Creating a New Time Use Variable. In some cases, none of the existing time use variables may be similar to the variable a user wishes to create. In this case, users may create new time use variables from scratch. If this option is chosen, select activities from the activity coding structure and/or select filters for time of day, location, secondary activity (child care, eldercare, or eating/drinking), or with whom an activity occurred. Once a time use variable has been specified, the user is asked to name and label the variable and provide a short description that is retained for later reference. The system automatically stores the activity and filter specifications of the new time use variable, in case there are questions later about exactly how the variable was defined.

As already noted, any time use variables that a user creates are added to the list of time use variables that may be selected for future data extracts. Users may delete previously-created time use variables from their list of time use variables in "My ATUS" if they no longer want to include these time use variables in data extracts.

Selecting ATUS/ATUS-CPS Variables

In addition to creating and/or selecting time use variables for extraction, users typically also will include personal and household characteristic variables with their data extract. Personal characteristics include such things as the respondent's age, sex, marital status, labor force status, or earnings. Household characteristics include such things as household size, whether there are children resident in the household, and whether the household owns or rents its dwelling. View a complete list of variables available to system users. Note that Activity and Who level variables are not available for inclusion in your data extract unless you select a hierarchical extract.

A description of each variable may be obtained by clicking on the variable's name on the selection list. For categorical variables, codes and frequency counts are provided for each year they exist in the data. In some cases, the coding of the variables changed across survey years. In the Data Extract Builder, uniform codes are assigned across all of the data collection years wherever possible.

The names assigned to the ATUS-X variables are different from the names of the variables on the original ATUS data files. An effort was made to assign intuitive names that are as simple as possible (for example, SEX rather than PESEX). Some of the ATUS-X characteristic variables were collected or updated at the time of the ATUS interview; others were collected at the time of the CPS interview that occurred 2-5 months earlier. In most cases, the suffix _CPS8 is attached to the names of variables collected during the CPS interview. For a very few variables that were collected at the time of the CPS interview but contain information that should not have changed, the _CPS8 suffix is omitted. For example, information on whether the respondent is an immigrant and the countries in which the respondent's mother and father were born are collected as part of the CPS; the variables containing this information do not have a _CPS8 suffix, but their origin is noted in the accompanying variable description.

We also offer data quality flags for many variables when they are available. Data quality flags indicate whether the value coded for the variable was directly reported or imputed and, if the latter, the source of the imputed information. In a few cases, other data quality flags that contain information about a variable are available. System users are given the option to include or not to include available data quality flags on their data extract. If the flag option is selected, all data quality flags for the variables included in the data extract will be delivered as part of the data file.

Some data users may wish to link the extracts they create with other ATUS data files or with information from CPS interviews completed by the ATUS households. Linking person level ATUS records requires the use of a household level identifier (CASEID in our data, which is the same as TUCASEID in the original data) and a person level identifier (LINENO in our data, which is the same as TULINENO in the original data). These identifiers are selected automatically when a user creates a data extract. To link a data extract with CPS data files, additional identifiers are required.

Estimation weights are included by default with data extracts. WT06 is the preferred weighting variable to use for most analyses and the only weighting variable that is suitable for use in analyses that combine 2006 and later data with data from earlier years.

Because the sample for the ATUS is not a simple random sample, standard errors for estimated means and model parameters calculated using standard statistical software will not be correct. Most statistical software packages have special procedures for correctly calculating the standard errors for estimates based on data from surveys such as the ATUS that have complex designs. The original ATUS data files contain replicate weights that can be used for this purpose. If a user selects RWT06 the 160 replicate weights that are intended for use together with WT06 will be added to the user's data file. Please note that including RWT06 will result in a data file that is relatively large.

Submitting a Data Extract

The final step in the Data Extract Builder is to review and submit an extract. We display a summary of the selections made throughout the system for the user to review. Changes can be made at this point by clicking on any of the headings representing the steps in the extract creation process. Enter a summary of the extract contents for later reference and click on "Submit Extract Request" to begin building the extract.

Using ATUS-X Data

Data extracts are generated on our server. The system sends out an email message to the user when the extract is completed. The user must download the extract and analyze it on their local machine. The time needed to make an extract depends on the number and size of samples requested, the number of time use variables included, and the load on our server. Extracts can take from a few minutes to an hour or more to prepare. There is no need to stay active on the ATUS-X site while the extract is being made; you will be notified by email when it is ready to download. Space constraints limit the period of time that extracts can be retained on the system server. Extract specifications, however, are retained indefinitely. This means that it is always possible for a user to recreate a previously-created extract. To access the specifications for previously-created extracts that you wish to recreate, go to "My Extracts" in "My ATUS".

The ATUS-X data files are produced in a fixed-column ASCII format. In addition to the ASCII data file, the system creates statistical package syntax files to accompany each extract. The syntax file is designed to read in the ASCII data while applying appropriate variable and value labels. SPSS, SAS, and Stata are supported. You must download the syntax file with the extract or you will be unable to read the data. The syntax file may require minor editing to identify the location of the data file on your local computer. Detailed instructions are available.

A codebook file also is created with each extract. It records the characteristics of your extract, which you may want to download for your records.

Linking ATUS-X and IPUMS CPS

In addition to the data available via the ATUS-X data extraction system, users may also be interested opportunities for further analysis of linkages with the Current Population Survey. ATUS-X provides some files already linked to CPS for user convenience.

Future Plans for ATUS-X

ATUS-X is funded through 2017 by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. In the first phase of the project, we have developed a website that allows data users to aggregate the time spent in combinations of user-defined activities. This allows restriction by time of day, location, whether the person had children under the age of 13 in their care during the activity, provided eldercare during the activity, or engaged in secondary eating and/or drinking, with whom activities were (or were not) done, and selection of additional variables that characterize the individual ATUS respondents and their households. We will continue to improve our website and documentation. We plan to distribute new data as it becomes available and to link ATUS data with data from various CPS Supplement files. If you have a suggestion about other improvements you would like to see, please contact us.

We have every expectation of continuing the project but will have to secure further funding as our current grant expires. To be successful, we need to have a large body of users and published works that we can document. Please contact us with details of any presentations you may give or papers you may write using ATUS data. We also request that you properly cite the use of this data.